MORGAN, James (c.1660-1717), of Ayley, Kinnersley, Herefs.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. c.1660, 5th but 4th surv. s. of Sir Thomas Morgan, 1st Bt., of Chanston Court, Vowchurch, Herefs. by Delarivière, da. of John Cholmley of Braham Hall, Spofforth, Yorks.; bro. of Sir John Morgan, 2nd Bt.* educ. I. Temple 1680. m. bef. 20 Aug. 1687, Elizabeth (d. 1739), da. of William Matthews of The Postles, Kington, Herefs., ?s.p.1
?Common councilman, Hereford by 1702.2
On his father’s death in 1679 Morgan inherited property in Herefordshire and Monmouthshire, and also the sum of £1,000, which helped him conquer a local heiress. Her unexpected longevity, contrary to his express belief that she would scarcely live ten more years, may have been a major cause of the irascibility for which he was later notorious. Little is known of his political opinions before the Revolution, though such evidence as there is suggests that he aped his eldest brother’s loyalties, first to James II and then to the Prince of Orange. Inactive in the Convention, he does not appear to have sought re-election in 1690. He next attracted attention in 1692, when, on behalf of his brother Sir John, in whose absence on military duties he seems always to have held a watching brief, he protested over the remodelling of the Radnorshire commission of the peace, Sir John having suffered, as he saw it, the insult of exclusion. Morgan suspected his family’s rivals, the Harleys of Brampton Bryan, as the villains of the piece, and more particularly Sir Edward Harley*, whose likely candidature in an impending by-election for Radnorshire seemed to provide a motive for striking at opposing interests. He wrote to Sir Edward:
I am most heartily sorry that a new occasion has now sprung from some of your family, as I am confidently informed, to widen those mistakes and differences that have been already but too long among us, for which I was ever extremely much concerned that they happened, but, however, hoped that long before this time there might have been acts of oblivion passed between all persons, which I now perceive has been so far from doing that things are still fermenting into (I fear) old remembrances, which I could hardly persuade myself could at this time have their beginnings in Sir Edward Harley’s family, but that I have so well grounded an information of it.
His brother’s displacement was ‘a matter fit to be resented’, putting ‘reflections and obloquy . . . into everybody’s mouth’. The reply came not from Sir Edward but from his son Robert Harley*, who excused the changes in the commission as matters of routine, denied in any case that his family were responsible or that his father had a design to stand at the by-election, and hoped that ‘groundless rumours will not prevail upon your credit, or engage you to espouse an opposition to me who desire your friendship and always am desirous to avoid disputes’. Privately, Harley acknowledged that Morgan’s letter was ‘not strange, because like him, but that he should be angry at what hath been practised throughout all Wales, the removal of honorary justices, shows they hunt for occasions of difference. God deliver from unreasonable men.’ Sir John Morgan, at least, did seem to accept the explanation. James, in a further letter described by Robert Harley as so ‘intricate’ it defied comprehension, did not withdraw entirely his previous allegations. Both brothers, however, went on to give their support to the anti-Harley candidate in the by-election. With Sir John’s death less than two months later, James assumed leadership of the family interest, for the heir to the baronetcy, his nephew Sir Thomas Morgan, 3rd Bt.*, was only eight years old. He did not challenge the Harleys again in Radnorshire, but made his presence felt in his own county, enhancing his reputation for troublesomeness in 1694 when first he ‘complained of the execution of the poll bill at H[ereford] which hath made work there such as hath divided the town’, and then threatened to follow Sir Herbert Croft, 1st Bt.*, in ‘laying down his commission’, presumably in the militia. At the 1695 election he was chosen for Hereford.3
Morgan’s local rivalry with the Harleys seems to have coloured his viewpoint on questions of national politics. He was classed as likely to support the Court in a forecast for the division on the proposed council of trade on 31 Jan. 1696, and signed the Association promptly. He also acted as a teller on 3 Feb. 1696 in favour of what appears to have been a Court-inspired rider to the land tax bill, to prevent reductions in assessments. He was not listed for the division in March on fixing the price of guineas at 22s., and on the 28th was given leave of absence on health grounds. Thereafter, apart from his vote on 25 Nov. 1696 for the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†, his parliamentary activities are impossible to distinguish from those of Anthony* and Thomas Morgan*. There is some reason to believe that the Morgan who acted as a teller on 9 Jan. 1697, in favour of agreeing with the committee of ways and means to impose a duty on all plate not brought in for use in the recoinage, and again on 15 Jan., for adjourning discussion of the bill against imported East Indian cloth, was James, for on both occasions his telling partner was a Member with strong Herefordshire connexions. Morgan’s classification as a supporter of the Country party in a comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments in about September 1698 may reflect the fact that he was always something of a maverick, antagonistic to the Harley family and their allies but at the same time unreliable as a supporter of anyone else. He appeared on the list as a Member ‘left out’ of the 1698 Parliament, for he had ‘quitted’ the borough, having by his ‘peevish’ behaviour alienated the townspeople. The experience did nothing to sweeten his view of politics, and in 1700 he was voicing bitter cynicism of the Westminster scene:
Contending factions and interests of parties does [sic] always keep up a civil war at court, and set up and pull down everything by turn as they are strongest and most prevailing. They do it by turns, and there is no certainty but vicissitude to themselves and their creatures, which wax and wane with them.4
Morgan’s appetite for elections was reawakened in 1708, the year in which his nephew, having attained his majority, intervened unsuccessfully in Radnorshire against the Harleys. James, after some hesitation, put up once more in Hereford, against the outgoing Members, Hon. James Brydges and Thomas Foley II. His single candidacy surprised Foley, who had previously reported to his colleague Morgan’s uncertainty: ‘he could not tell whether he should stand by himself or not, but I did not think there was anything in it. He has said the same thing every election but the last that you and I were chosen together.’ Exploitation of his contacts among the common council of the borough, and of current rumours that Brydges was ‘like to be out of favour’ at court, availed him nothing, and Morgan trailed in third at the poll. He maintained his interest in the constituency for a time but does not seem to have contested the 1710 general election. In 1712, at a by-election necessitated by Foley’s appointment to office, he again archly refused to tell Foley whether or not he would allow his name to be put forward, merely promising that ‘he would ask nobody’ to vote for him. Behind the scenes, however, his friends in the town were preparing to demand a poll. He was foiled on this occasion by his nephew Sir Thomas, who had made his own peace with the Harleys and Foleys, and worked to secure Foley’s unopposed return.5
Morgan did not contemplate a candidature again. On the proclamation of King George I in Hereford in August 1714 it was reported that ‘Morgan, who has been kept in by the spleen this many years, with glee in his looks and almost an indecent laughter attended the solemnity’. He died on 9 Nov. 1717, aged 57, and was buried in Hereford Cathedral. By a final bitter irony his wife outlived him by 22 years. There being no issue, the property then merged into the Kinnersley estate.6
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: D. W. Hayton
- 1. C. J. Robinson, Mansions and Manors of Herefs. 275; Bradney, Mon. i. 254; Dugdale’s Vis. Yorks. ed. Clay, ii. 445.
- 2. Williams, Herefs. MPs, 95; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 57(1), p. 32.
- 3. Add. 70120, Morgan to Sir Edward Harley, 27 Oct. 1692; 70249, Robert Harley to Morgan, 5 Nov. 1692; 70016, ff. 192–3, 205; 70203, Morgan to Robert Harley, 12 Nov. 1692; 70234, Sir Edward Harley to same, 27 Oct. 1692; 70225, Paul Foley I* to same, 26 June 1694; 70231, Abigail Harley to same, 7 Aug. 1694; D. R. L. Adams, ‘Parlty. Rep. Rad. 1536–1832’ (Wales Univ. M.A. thesis, 1969), 176–86.
- 4. Add. 70114, Thomas Foley II to Sir Edward Harley, 16 July 1698; Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 24, f. 331; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 315–16.
- 5. Stowe mss 58(2), pp. 220–1; 57(1), pp. 29–30; 58(4), p. 232; HMC Portland, iv. 485; Add. 70226, Thomas Foley II to Ld. Oxford (Robert Harley), 18 July 1712.
- 6. Hereford and Worcester RO (Hereford), Brydges mss, Francis to William Brydges, 4 Aug. 1714; Harl. 6835, f. 154; Robinson, 275.